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Early last year, with good reason, we called March 31 "a day that will live in Houston music infamy." That was Cactus Music and Video's last day of operation.
Social scientists speak of "third places," by which they mean informal anchors to community life. These places are neither home's first place nor work's second, but somewhere in the middle.
Ray Oldenburg, who coined the term, maintained that true third places have to be either free or inexpensive, should offer food and drink, be easy to arrive at (preferably walkable) and have a sturdy bulwark of regular customers.
Especially when it hosted in-store concerts, Cactus functioned as a third place for a good portion of Houston's music scene, a convivial meeting spot that was neither home nor a bar. Sure, it wasn't the cheapest place in town to buy CDs, but think about the atmosphere on in-store nights: Where else could you enjoy free music and bevies with dozens of your closest friends?
Back when Cactus closed, we harvested a number of eulogies from Cactus employees and customers and prominent figures in the local industry, and the statements made for heartrending reading.
Brad Turcotte, then president of Compadre Records, and now both the president of Compadre and an executive vice president with Music World Entertainment, called it "a huge blow to the music industry, not just in Houston, but for the nation."
Local musician Rob Mahan unconsciously articulated the "third place" concept. He remembered it fondly as a fine spot to while away a hungover afternoon, "when you needed to get out of the house but didn't have any place to go or anything to do or much desire to put on a clean shirt or tie your shoes."
Cactus was the place to go, he said, when "you didn't want to see anybody or be seen by anybody, but didn't mind running into someone else in the same condition."
Former Southwest Wholesale sales manager Paige Mann remembered it as a place where you could meet both your friends and your idols, ask a staff member for a recommendation and have a solid one delivered with both passion and conviction. "Cactus never sold music," she said. "Cactus was music."
And will be again. Cactus Music and Video has returned from the dead. The store's soft relaunch is this week, just in time for holiday shopping.
"We wanted to wait until February for the official grand opening," says Quinn Bishop, now as then the store's general manager. "But there's been so many people nipping at my heels for us to reopen sooner, that I just thought, 'The hell with it. Let's go ahead and do it.'"
The store has migrated about a half-mile south of its former home on the corner of Shepherd and Alabama. New Cactus is in always-hopping Shepherd Plaza at 2110 Portsmouth.
"Thursday through Saturday nights, it's like little Las Vegas around here," says Bishop, indicating the foot traffic from bars such as The Stag's Head, McElroy's Pub and The Davenport. "Our old location had gotten kind of stale. There's nothing local up there anymore, and there wasn't much foot traffic around there at night. Around here, even the chain restaurants — James Coney Island and Whataburger — are local, or at least Texas."
New Cactus is roughly the same size as old Cactus. "It's the same exact footage if you subtract the video area," says Bishop. Looking around the new digs, as a few familiar faces stocked the shelves, you can see that Bishop has brought back not just the same bins and carts but also many of his old employees.
"The Cactus All-Stars will be back," he says, though when asked, he revealed that the return of George St. Clair the Video God is still not certain.
As with the old location, there will be a performance stage and many in-stores. In fact, instead of hosting live events on an ad hoc basis, new Cactus will have them routinely.
"There will be live music every Thursday and Friday," Bishop says. "On Saturdays, we hope to have at least two events, beginning in the afternoon and running through the evening. We want to have things on Sunday, too. It's not gonna be like it was, where we would have none one week and four the next."
In addition to more live music, new Cactus will have a greater emphasis on both vinyl and visual art. The Record Ranch, as Bishop has dubbed a second room adjacent to the main space, will allow customers to rummage through an expanded selection of LPs and music-oriented paintings and drawings. Already there's some prize vinyl on the shelves — Bishop uncovered a trove of still-sealed LPs from Crazy Cajun Records, including albums by Roy Head, Lowell Fulson, Tommy McLain and Joe Medwick.
The Record Ranch is the new locale's crown jewel. In fact, it's one of the most appealing retail spaces I have ever been in. The floor is tiled in warm earth tones, and both the vinyl in the racks and the art on the walls — the first exhibition is a collection of Day of the Dead-themed paintings of deceased rock stars by Flamin' Hellcats drummer Carlos Hernandez — is a repast for the eyes. The LPs in the racks and the paintings on the walls conspire to form a symbiotic, welcoming vibe that is more than the sum of its parts. In short, the Record Ranch feels as warm and inviting as an LP played on a quality hi-fi sounds.
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